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View Full Version : Vodstok's [i]Gloom[/i]: A critical discussion


Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 08:58 AM
First of all, have you read the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman? The similarities are uncanny.

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 09:01 AM
No i havent. is that a compliment?

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 09:04 AM
Well, your writing styles are different. But, the "pinhole to another world" idea is the one that Pullman's trilogy revolves around. And the description of this hole is almost exactly like the ones in His Dark Materials. I thought you may have gotten the inspiration from him. Is the Prologue and Chapter 1 all you have written so far?

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 09:11 AM
Yes. Gloom is actually more involved (mentally, plotwise, and emotionally) than most of the other stuff i write, so i have to be in a particular mindset for it, and the past several months have not lent themselves to writing it.

However, my new house has EXACTLY the environment that inspires me, so more should flow very soon.

The funny thing about it is that 90% + of Gloom was inspired by the old game Quake, with some Doom and dungeons and dragons thrown in. Basically, i wanted to take the general premise of Quake and see what kind of story i could make out of it.

I have borrowed quite a bit from Lovecraft, but thanks to some input from this forum:
http://www.chronicles-network.net/forum/index.php

I have edited out some old english that just didnt fit.

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 09:26 AM
Okay. That explains my worst criticism... I was going to say that it reads like a movie (at best), or a video game (at worst.) Now, don't think that I am dissin' your writing style. Your writing is surprisingly good! Your descriptions are vivid and immediate, and you don't waste words bombarding the reader with unnecessary imagery. The narrative is told by a soldier, after all, and I believe you have chosen just the right about of description: we wouldn't expect such a narrator to be very poetic. But, we WOULD expect him to use a little more military language. I don't know if a soldier would call the aircraft he flown in on merely "the aircraft" or his weapon merely "a gun". I think he would be more apt to tell us exactly what type of aircraft or gun it was. "I secured the butt of my BFG-2000 in the pit of my arm, but my hand began to cramp on the stock. My grip was unnaturally tight, but it had to be to keep from slipping on the sweat my palm produced" -- that kind of thing.

What makes me say it reads like a video game is that you rush into the action. You eagerly want to take us to this world and begin to describe it and the horrors that inhabit it. This is well and good, it is great to be excited about a project and want to get to the meaty parts. But, you lose something in the storytelling by rushing like this. I know nothing about this soldier, what his background is, what sort of person he is. So far, he is just an undeveloped video game character walking about in this horrific place. As readers, we want to identify with the character if we are going to feel anything for him. If you are going to make us feel hopeless (which, I believe is your goal), then we have to be able to become the character, on some level. And for that, I think you need to start providing us with something about your protagonist that we can relate to. I will give you a chance to respond before I go on.

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 09:30 AM
Points taken. Chapter 2 will actually be dedicated to character developement as well as moving deeper into the world. You are Absolutely right about leaping in to the action. I actuaslly confused my fiance with the first draft of the attack.

I am not afraid to go back and make additions/subtractions to the existing content. keep going, this is fun :)

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 09:43 AM
Real reply in a second -- my wife just came home with an armload of boxes and ordered me to give my kid a bath.

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 09:52 AM
lol. :) take your time :)

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 09:59 AM
You don't really need to dedicate an entire chapter to character development (in fact, this might actually be detrimental to your story). There are some simple things you can do with the material you have already produced, and that you can continue to do throughout the novel. For example, what sorts of things does this character care about? If I was about to go on a mission to a hostile planet (or dimension, or whatever), and I had fears that I may not make it back -- certain things would go through my head: my family being the first thing to come to mind. Have your character think about these things while he is waiting on the drop-flight. Have him look at and describe the faces of his comrades. Are they afraid? Does it show? Is one of them too macho to show fear, but his darting eyes give him away?

You also need to give your character a flaw, a weakness, and attack this weakness with your main conflict. Do you remember The Monkey's Paw? The short story about the family who gets the paw and wish for stuff that come true -- but with horrible consequences? Many teachers say that the conflict of this story is person vs. fate. But it's not. It is person vs. himself. The main character's (the father's) weakness is that he makes hasty decisions. He acts before he thinks, and his hasty decisions are always bad. This is shown at the beginning of the story when he is playing chess with his son. He loses the game because he moves his pieces haphazardly, without thinking about it. Then, at the end of the story, his wife is about to let in the thing at the door (if you remember the story, you know what I am talking about). The protagonist has to overcome his weakness. He has to think quickly, and make a good decision for once before his wife opens the door. And he does. He overcomes his weakness to conquer the conflict.

But, you don't have to have your character win over the conflict. This all depends on what sort of message you want to deliver. If your theme is "hopelessness", then having your character triumph shows that there is always hope. You know what I mean? So, you may decide to have him fail. Either way, in order to provide readable suspense, give your character a prime weakness that he has to overcome if he is going to survive. Whether or not he really overcomes it is up to you.

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 10:09 AM
Would you say the introduction seems hurried? I would not actually dedicate an entire chapter to telling the character's backstory. mainly, the second chapter contains the events just before and after the "turtle incident", which would contain periods of rest and travel for the character, where i would deal with those details. However, does this make sense:

I willa dd those details you mentioned earlier on, then flesh them out in chapter 2. And to be honest, i didnt have a clear enough picture in my mind of the character to give an "achilles heal" quite yet.

Some details have been left purposely vague. one of the things i have been interested in is how readers view the main character without certain details being mentioned. Some things will be left out, because a person stuck in that situation might not consider them important enough to mention.

One of my suspicions was confirmed, though. How do you know its a he? ;)


Oh, and btw, you saying my wiritng is surprisingly good is one of the best compliments i have recieved so far :) If only my english teachers (aside from 12th grade, she thought i was wonderful :)) had told me that. i always thought i was good, but i actually caught flak from most of them for doing creative writing rather than bland descriptions. I guess we know which ones fall into the "those who cant do, teach" category......

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 10:12 AM
A good and appropriate conflict for this story --- if you don't mind me providing example -- would be to make your protagonist young and inexperienced. In fact, you've already established that he "just completed training for search and rescue". But I would go even farther and say that he had just completed his training entirely. In fact, his stint in the military is his first time away from home. Imagine that --- little experience outside of training, and being abandoned in an alien existence before you've even had a chance to develop any world experience in your own plane. This would be good -- but, I need to ask you a question before I continue. How long do you plan on making this story, and do you plan on having other characters for your protagonist to communicate with?

The reason why I ask is that, if you plan on making this actual novel length, then your protagonist had better start to become pretty interesting pretty quick. He has to be interesting enough to carry a whole novel by himself! So, I was surprised when you killed off his entire squad. The main difference between a novel and novella is characters -- not length. A novel's length is like it is because the many characters force it to be long. I would really like to see some survivors for this character to interact with.

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 10:15 AM
Crap! You posted before I was finished! Now I have to go back and respond to what you wrote. And you make some great points! How do I know it's a he??? If it turns out be a she, then you have slapped me in the face and shown me how I tend to stereotype people. And an author that can teach me something about myself is a good author indeed! :D Unfortunately, I am out of cigarettes. I need to make a run to the store, but I will be back momentarily!

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 10:19 AM
Remeber just before they enetered? gates were springing open allover the place. Dont you worry, there will be plenty of interactions with other characters.

The basic idea for this story is that it is a continuous serial, kind of like the old Lone Ranger shows. That doesnt mean there isnt an end, it is just way off.

The way i had envisioned it, the character is vague in the beginning: basically overwhelmed with the events that start the whole thing off. By the 2nd chapter, he/she has had some time to reflect, and we find out who they are, what they were doing, what was left behind, etc.

i also imagine that would be where the character would realise the full weight of what has transpired. From then on, we would have a full-fledged charcter that the reader should be able to identify with.

And on the descriptions of the weapons/vehicles etc. A big gripe i have had with a lot of science fiction is the overwelming amount of detail given to equipment while the story peeters along on a thin line. Just trying to avoid what i considered a bad cliche :)

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 11:12 AM
I agree on the overwhelming amount of techno-babble. It is really only needed when you are introducing new technology that the reader may not be familiar with. But, if your protagonist is a soldier, then he/she should talk like one. Even if the reader doesn't know what exactly a BFG-2000 is, we will know that it is a rifle of some kind by the other words that we do know (butt and stock). I do think that the introduction is rushed. I understand you wanting the reader to question a lot of things, and to leave those questions unanswered for a while (after all, that's what suspense is all about! And it makes for a good read). But, there is a thing called "suspension of disbelief" that horror writers in particular have to pay close attention to. We, as readers, need to believe that the unnatural things that are occurring are actually happening. Otherwise, we are too detached from the story for it to be effective. Most horror authors will begin their stories with completely natural events, and then gradually introduce elements of the supernatural. This way, the reader finds himself completely immersed in a horrific, supernatural tale and believing it, before he has had a chance to realize what happened. This is Lovecraft's style. Your story, however, starts with a character who is stranded in a place that he calls "Gloom". Okay, I guess I have to accept that he is there. But how did he get there? That's the big question! Your explanation, though, is rushed as well. "One day ... a pinhole opened between Gloom and our world." That's it. Then you go on to describe the scientists checking it out, and the first team of scientists enter only to get fucked up the ass. But, you have done nothing to aid me in suspending my disbelief. I gave you the opening ... the soldier is in Gloom. But, then you give very little aid in helping me to believe that a pinhole opened somewhere on the city's outskirts. Personally, I wouldn't have told the discovery of the pinhole from the viewpoint of the narrator. He wasn't there, so his telling of it is totally second-hand knowledge. This contributes to the problem. If you want us to believe something, you have to take us there, first hand. I would tell that part of the story through the point of view of a third-person omniscient narrator. Maybe make this part your prologue. Have your omniscient narrator describe the guy who is stumbling about the railroad tracks doing whatever it is that he is doing there (looking for cans, checking for faults in the rails, whatever. But it should be completely natural actions). Then he hears something, a humming ... or sees a shadow behind some trees ... and goes to check it out. He makes his discovery, calls the police. The scientists come ... show all this. Have the scientists discuss what they think it is. I know it is boring exposition stuff, but I think it might be necessary. You can always write all the good stuff first, then go back and hack out the not-so-fun, setting-up-the-story stuff. There is nothing wrong with shifting the point of the view of the story, either ... so don't be afraid of that. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury shift viewpoints with every chapter! Write your prologue from third-person omniscient, then the rest of the novel in first person. But, that's just a suggestion.

I was going to say something else, but I forgot what it was. Give me a minute.

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 11:27 AM
Oh yeah! I was going to talk about theme. But, I'll wait for your response before I move on to another topic.

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 11:29 AM
As a I writer and a musician (ive acted some too) I crave feedback the way a junkie craves smack. This is great :)

I was really apprehensive about shifting perspective, but as soon as you listed examples, it felt better at least. i'm not 100% sure about that though. i really wanted to keep it in 1rst person. I know it has a great deal of inherent challenges, but that is partially why.

Do you think if i fleshed out the beginning more, i could achieve a better semblance of what you described, without sacrificing the first person perspective? Keeping it 1rst person (i think) keeps it more intimate.

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 11:39 AM
Yes, I think you could. I think the main problem here is that you begin both stories with a completely unnatural event to launch your tale (the soldier lost in Gloom, and the pinhole opening in the city). There just isn't enough blending between the natural and the unnatural to make it believable ... and all the blending that is done is told in a retrospective summary, which doesn't help. You can tell it in retrospect, but have the narrator limit his story to what he knows. When he begins to tell us how he got there, take us to him living his natural life to a few moments before he learns about the existence of the pinhole. Does he see it on the news? Does he not learn about it until the pre-mission briefing? Maybe he watches it unfold in the news, and knows that he will soon get the dreaded call to duty. Whatever ... but there needs to be more blending. You need to start off with natural events, and gradually introduce the unnatural. Show the narrator's struggle with accepting that this thing has really happened, and in this way you give the reader a crutch on which to base his own struggle with believing your story. You follow?

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 11:41 AM
I'll be back in a bit. I just got an email from my wife asking me to call her.

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 11:46 AM
Yes i do. When i get a writing contract, i am hiring you as my coach. :)

I think the biggest hurdle i would face would be getting past my desire to use that opening line in the prelude. I just always liked it. The first line is always the hardest.

I definately get what you are saying, though. Have you ever read Jerusalem's lot? The original short story by stephen king? It is entirely done in letters by the protagonist. It starts off normal, then grows, slowly, into a supernatural story. it was very well written.

how is this? I bet i could write a whole new prelude, modify the existing one into a first chapter, and rename chapter 1 chapter 2.

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 12:10 PM
Actually, you can modify the existing prelude ... but I think it's fine if you start it off with your soldier lost in Gloom. Your opening line is great. Very attention getting (which is the purpose of an opening line). But, it's a bit confusing, the way it is written. Let's look at it.

"Echoes of screams. An endless cacophony that reverberates in my mind every time I close my eyes. A tiny glimmer of hope dangled before my eyes like a carrot on a string. "

I take it the echoes are your soldier's memory of the screams he heard while his comrades were being slaughtered. Very good. You take us right into his head, and hint to us that he has been through something horrible. But the last sentence is the one that throws me. What is the tiny glimmer of hope that is dangled before his eyes (I am only referring to your soldier as a "he" for the sake of simplicity. It is too much trouble to type he/she all the time)? The way it is written, it sounds as if the echoes of screams are the tiny glimmer of hope. But that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Actually, I would eliminate the word prelude altogether. You really only use prologues if you are going to give the reader a glimpse of something that he may need to know before the story starts, and that you will get back to in more detail later. But, since your actual story starts off with your soldier lost in Gloom, then I think you should change the prelude to Chapter 1. Write it out in detail. Have him tell us what has happened to him since he got here, describing the setting, the atrocities, all of that. Maybe he is low on ammo, but he managed to find a temporary sanctuary to rest. Then, end this chapter with him deciding to give us the backstory. Move into Chapter 2 with the events that led up to the character's position at the beginning of Chapter 1. When you get to that point, you can move in to Chapter 3, back to the character and where you left him at the end of Chapter 1.

How does that sound?



;) ;) ;) ;)

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 12:11 PM
I have no fucking clue where that series of winkies came from.

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 12:17 PM
hey, they made me smile anyway :)

I think that is awesome. Maybe i will have some time to work on it this weekend, but regardless, i think i am going to download this thread onto my pc so i dont lose it.

Not that you need my approval, but you strike me as an excellent teacher, stingy. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Feel free to do the same with my other stories if you have the time/inc;ination.

Also, i will let you know as soon as i have made the changes. If you want, i will send you a plain-text version that should be easier for you to print out.

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 12:23 PM
:) Thanks for the compliment. I only teach one Creative Writing class a semester, but it is always the class I love the most. I love talking about writing. And helping you with your work is not a completely selfless act. It also helps me with my own work!

But, I'm not done talking to you about this yet. I finally figured out your opening line:

"Echoes of screams. An endless cacophony that reverberates in my mind every time I close my eyes. A tiny glimmer of hope dangled before my eyes like a carrot on a string."

You mean that despite the horrifying memory, the soldier still has hope. I think you should modify the last sentence in the above quote to make this more clear. Maybe something like: "Even now, despite what I've seen and heard, a tiny glimmer of hope ... " Something like that.

I want to talk about theme, or purpose, if I may. Do you have the time?

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 12:29 PM
Yes i do, about an hour and a half in fact :)


I suddenly realised one of the problems with that opening. it is supposed to be saying that there is no hope, that the character is being tortured by being teased by the possibility of hope. Jesus, i need to rewritte that line...

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 12:54 PM
And this idea of "hopelessness" is an excellent transistion to what I'm about to write.

Horror authors write with the purpose of exploring what makes us afraid (at the least, the good ones do. The others write with the purpose of grossing us out. But, I'm sure by now you know how I feel about that.) Lovecraft, for example, wrote his stories based on fear of the unknown, combined with the idea that man is actually a helpless insect in the grand scheme of things. Stephen King writes about how truly horrible things can happen to your average, everyday Joe (for the most part), and the idea that evil can rear its ugly head in even the most common of places.

Judging from your previous posts in other threads, and the things you have written in Gloom, I take it that you are exploring the idea of hopelessness, combined with Lovecraft's fear of the unknown and King's idea about evil in common places. The hopelessness theme is easily identified. It's right there in the opening! The fear of the unknown is a given since we are thrust into a dark world we know nothing about ... and horrible things happen on a regular basis. The last one, evil in the commonplace, is more subtle. You do this by taking an animal that we normally associate as harmless (a turtle), and turn it into a relentless, hideous beast. The scene where the turtle follows your soldier is truly creepy! And you mention this idea again: "Since that day, all manner of usually harmless animals (and some plants) have attacked or followed me." I like this. It adds to the idea that nothing is safe, thus increasing your main idea of hopelessness. But, you have to be careful with it. Your turtle scene was well done. However, I read a book titled "The Rising" by Brian Keene (I think) which contains a scene where zombified deer attack and kill a hunter. I think he was going for the same effect you did, only he ended up scoring an 8 out of 10 on the unintentional comedy scale. Make sure you don't have any killer bunnies or shit like that! :D

I really can't wait to see how you develop your ideas on hopelessness. I think this would be a difficult thing to do because, as long as your narrator is alive, there is always hope. And we know that he doesn't die, because he lives to tell us his tale. You see? This is another drawback to using first person for this story in particular. We know he survives. Unless, of course, you're going to pull a Sixth Sense on us and have it turn out that he was really dead all along. . . . . . . ?

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 01:02 PM
Nah, I think ripping off M Night Shyamalan would get me lynched, and not by his fans...

I'm trying to write it almost like a journal, like the reader could concievably find a book sitting in an old building ans start reading through it. If i can pull that off, then there is always suspense, because the author could have died in between chapters, effectively ending the story.

For some reason this made me think of that part in the holy grail where Brother Maynard is reading the Aramaic scripture on the wall, and they find out the grail is kept in the castle Arrgh. :)


And dont worry. No killer bunnies. that, too, has been done before :)

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 01:17 PM
I see what you mean. Good idea! Like you could end it with something like:

"They're right outside. I can hear them, their infernal huffing and clawing, on the other side of the door. I still have one bullet."

The end.

That is a good technique. That would totally mess with those of us who thought: "Hey, he's telling us the story. He's going to live." lol

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 01:22 PM
Who knows? If i ever get time, there could be some images to go with the story.... But i hope the imagery in the story is good enough.

Once it gets into things full swing, it should be even more interesting. The story itself is pretty straight foward, but the goings-on are complex.


And it wont be completely devoid of gore.....:D

One other thing, as you can tell, i take a great deal of inspiration from games and the like (most anything im exposed to). Doom 3 comes out on August 3rd, and I'm DYING to get my grubby little paws on it. I cant wait to see what kind of twisted visions it gives me :)


I actually listened to the background "music" from quake while writing chapter 1. It helps, a lot.

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 01:26 PM
Well, let me know when you get the modifications done. I would love to read it! I don't feel like I know the story enough to give a full-blown critique as it is ... so, hopefully you will have added much more to it by the time I read it again.

This was fun! Thanks for being so open to my suggestions. I have to run now, though. I have to hunt down more boxes with which to pack. Moving day is fastly arriving. :rolleyes:

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 01:30 PM
Same here. I enjoyed it immensely :D

I think i already said this, but feel free to do the same for my other stuff, if you feel like it:

Father Dillon's Funeral (http://scaredyet.net/lit/shamb.aspx)

Bearwood (http://scaredyet.net/lit/bearwood.aspx)

Please go easy on Bearwood, I was 19 when i wrote it. It was actually my first short story.

I have 3 that i am actively writing right now. 2 horror, 1 sci-fi. Expect me to pimp them MERCILESSLY when they are finished :)

Good luck with the packing. My fiance and i close on our house on the 30th. Cant wait.....

Stingy Jack
07-20-2004, 02:10 PM
Yes, I will check out your other stuff as well. But, I want to give one more piece of advice before we close for now:

Write, always. You said that is has been several months since you were in the "right mindset" to work on Gloom. You're setting yourself up for defeat with this. You can't wait for the inspiration, the mindset, the muse, what have you, to come along and make you sit and write. You have to force youself to do it ... every day. At least five minutes a day. Get that first draft done, from start to finish.

And this is another thing that may be holding you back. You seem like the type of writer who perfects his work as he goes. You slave over every choice of word, every description, every bit of punctuation (Oscar Wilde: "I spent all morning deciding where to put the comma, and all afternoon wondering if I should take it out") before it finally gets on paper. Don't do this to yourself. Write out the story ... just write it. From start to finish. Don't worry if it's crap (Ernest Hemmingway: "The first draft is always shit"). You can always go back and fix it. But, at least you will have your story written out, on paper, from start to finish. It will make the editing and cleaning up a lot easier. You will have a better grasp on where you want the story to take your reader, and what turns and twists you are going to take them down. You will learn who your characters are, what they are up against, and how will they will deal with it. Once you know all of these things, you can rewrite it. Keeping what you like, tossing what you don't. Drawing out descriptions, adding foreshadowing, touching up the dialogue. This is how writers work. Too many people have a romanticized view of the writing life: "Spend the day pounding out the next best-selling novel, then celebrate the work that evening on your luxury yacht." Writing is a long and difficult process. But once it is done, it is incredibly rewarding.

So, don't wait! Write! Get the draft done, dammit!

Vodstok
07-20-2004, 05:12 PM
Will do. I ahve been doing this with the other 3 short stories i am working on, as long as i get SOMETHING.

Thank you again, stingy :)

Egekrusher
07-23-2004, 11:22 AM
Keep on writing man. I really enjoy your material.

Vodstok
07-23-2004, 11:57 AM
Thanks ege :)

BTW, i like your user text (Wish is still one of my favorite songs) and your avatar startled me at first :) Whihc is funny since i have that same pic on my site

:rolleyes:

The next week is gonna be balls-to-the-wall, but once things setlle down, i will dedicate soem time to gloom. right now i am working on 3 other stories as well. 2 horror, 1 sci-fi.

Egekrusher
07-23-2004, 12:26 PM
Originally posted by Vodstok
Thanks ege :)

BTW, i like your user text (Wish is still one of my favorite songs) and your avatar startled me at first :) Whihc is funny since i have that same pic on my site

:rolleyes:

The next week is gonna be balls-to-the-wall, but once things setlle down, i will dedicate soem time to gloom. right now i am working on 3 other stories as well. 2 horror, 1 sci-fi.

I've been looking for this pic forever. I kinda stole it from your site. :)

Vodstok
07-23-2004, 12:31 PM
that is what they are there for :)

I was going to watermark them in the lower right corner with my logo, but i am too lazy soo far. i might just to see how mauch they spread, but i obviously cant whine that people took them from my site since i dont own them to begin with. :)

Stingy Jack
07-23-2004, 03:46 PM
I like Ege's new avatar, too. One of my favorites scenes from current horror.

Vodstok
10-11-2004, 12:42 PM
Hey! Stingy!

Just wanted to give you an FYI on this. Since i am in my new house, married, and finished with the brain-melting project that i was working on for over a month, i am finally getting off my ass and making the discussed revisions. i have a copy of the whole thread on my pc and just finished reading through it again ;)

this month is going to be a write-frenzy :D

Stingy Jack
10-16-2004, 05:28 PM
That's great! I'm looking forward to reading. I am currently at work on a short story for Cemetery Dance magazine ... I will post it here once I get the copyright.